‘Let’s Get Ready to Rumble’
In the aftermath of a crushing election defeat of the pro-commonwealth incumbent Aníbal Acevedo Vilá in 2008, former three-term Gov. Rafael Hernández Colón was asked by a wire news service whether the time had come to establish once and for all that the commonwealth was one thing and free association another.
The Popular Democratic Party’s (PDP) elder statesman’s response—“yes”—affirmed an institutional position that yanked the party back to the center and eventually led to a razor-thin victory by Alejandro García Padilla in the 2012 general elections.
In the nearly four years that García Padilla has governed Puerto Rico, he has seen the PDP’s ideological shift, confronting a formidable foe in an economy that continues to shrink at an alarming pace. The horrendous debt crisis that Puerto Rico faces has forced the commonwealth to hire seven-figure advisers—foremost among them Jim Millstein, founder of Millstein & Co., and the law firm Cleary Gottlieb, which have held meetings with creditors and staffers on Capitol Hill in attempts to secure legislation that would help Puerto Rico restructure its towering $70 billion public debt.
At this writing, draft legislation of the Puerto Rico Oversight, Management & Economic Stability Act (Promesa) was being circulated in the hallowed halls of the U.S. Congress. As previously reported by this newspaper, House Speaker Paul Ryan will not present it for markup unless he can meet the Hastert Rule, an informal guideline that calls for passing legislation with a majority of the Republican majority once a bill goes to the floor.
With or without Promesa’s federal fiscal-control board, there is no question that the work of Puerto Rico’s nonvoting member in Congress will play a key role in the outcome of Puerto Rico’s roadmap to debt restructuring and the proposals for economic development that will be presented in Congress.
Former Rep. Héctor Ferrer, who is vying to become the PDP’s candidate for resident commissioner in primaries to be held June 5, has proven he knows
his way around Congress. When he was PDP president in 2010, he was instrumental in helping to secure a last-minute amendment by Rep. Virginia Foxx (R-N.C.), which helped rally consensus behind the Puerto Rico Democracy Act (HR 2499), a bill for the island’s self-determination. The Foxx amendment added Puerto Rico’s commonwealth option to the status choices on the second ballot of a two-tiered referendum process. Without it, the bill would have died in the House of Representatives. Buoyed by experiences such as that, Ferrer is confident he can drive his agenda for Puerto Rico’s economic development on Capitol Hill.
His opponent in the PDP primaries, Sen. Ángel Rosa, is a first-term lawmaker from Mayagüez. Rosa, a professor turned senator who is well-acquainted with the precepts of government management, also has a clear vision for his agenda as resident commissioner. Acknowledging that the environment in Washington has changed, he is focused on finding more federal funds for Puerto Rico, but not searching for another Section 936.
The following two articles provide a profile of these two PDP candidates in their pursuit to be Puerto Rico’s resident commissioner in Washington, D.C.
—P.S.R. & R.F., Editors
In the campaign to become the pro-statehood New Progressive Party’s (NPP) candidate for resident commissioner, the exchange of ideas through a process of public debate has been missing because Rep. Jenniffer González refuses to set foot on the same stage with former NPP President Carlos Pesquera. The former House speaker bases her stance on Pesquera’s public criticism of her—he called out González for not knowing English and alleged that she was “lazy” during a radio interview.
Sadly, that sideshow detracted from what could have otherwise been an uplifting campaign of ideas, which is essential for the NPP faithful to choose wisely. There are few times in history when Puerto Rico’s nonvoting member of the U.S. Congress will play a more important role in lobbying for job creation measures in Congress. It is an enormously important post because the most recent draft of the Puerto Rico Oversight Management & Economic Stability Act (Promesa) that is being circulated has significant debt restructuring mechanisms and oversight dispositions, but sorely needed economic development measures also need to be pushed.
Pesquera’s supporters point to his experience as the former Transportation & Public Works Department (DTOP by its Spanish acronym) secretary under
the administration of Gov. Pedro Rosselló (1993-2001) and a strong track record that could benefit Puerto Rico at this critical juncture. As DTOP secretary, he is widely recognized for successfully carrying out several major infrastructure projects, such as the $2 billion Tren Urbano (Urban Train),
the Superaqueduct water pipeline, numerous road construction projects and the construction of the José Miguel Agrelot Coliseum in San Juan.
Pesquera insists that his ability to obtain federal funding will be essential to kickstart an economy in precipitous decline because that money would be
earmarked for infrastructure maintenance. He promises to revitalize Puerto Rico’s aqueduct and sewers, as well as electricity and transportation systems,
which would lead to huge job creation.
González, meanwhile, was first elected to the House in 2002 and became speaker of the House in 2008. She is now the Minority Leader in the House
and is the chairwoman of the Republican Party in Puerto Rico.
Much like Pesquera, González is focused on the NPP’s quest to make Puerto Rico the 51st state of the Union a reality. She has vowed that if she is
victorious, one of the first things she will do in Congress will be to organize a mass demonstration in front of the White House and Congress on March 2, 2017—marking the 100th anniversary of U.S. citizenship for Puerto Ricans—calling for statehood. González said she would follow the so-called Tennessee
Plan for statehood and immediately file a congressional bill for statehood.
The following two articles provide a profile of these two NPP candidates in their pursuit to become Puerto Rico’s resident commissioner in Washington, D.C.
—P.S.R. & R.F., Editors
PDP: Ángel Rosa: More Than Ready for Congress
Popular Democratic Party (PDP) Sen. Ángel Rosa believes that the historic juncture in which Puerto Rico currently finds itself—mired in a deep fiscal and
economic crisis—requires the resident commissioner, who goes to work in Washington, D.C., to be a person with the ability, preparation and experience to handle the complex issues currently facing the commonwealth.
He said Washington, looking at Congress and other aspects of the federal government, has changed a lot, and now there is a very hostile and complex environment related to Puerto Rico.
For example, he noted that groups such as the conservative Tea Party movement within the majority Republican Party, which have gained influence in recent years, have created an environment that is very different from when the Democratic Party was the majority.
Rosa is a first-term senator from Mayagüez and professor of political science at the University of Puerto Rico’s Mayagüez campus, according to his website. He is also a political analyst and a radio host. His previous work experience includes being a La Fortaleza adviser on government management and education during the Sila María Calderón administration, according to his website.
The message the PDP must bring to its supporters in the upcoming primaries on June 5 boils down to moving toward the future or back to the past; Rosa said his platform is focused on the future. Still, he noted there are no fundamental differences between his proposals and those of his PDP opponent, Héctor Ferrer, with the exception of how they each view the role of resident commissioner.
“I think the task of the resident commissioner goes beyond going to Congress and sitting on some committees or subcommittees, or meeting with other members of Congress—that is a part of it—[the resident commissioner] also must go to Washington to procure more federal funds,” he said.
In terms of legislation regarding Puerto Rico, there is always the oft-repeated discourse of going to Congress in search of incentives such as those in Section 936, in an attempt to reactivate the economy as in those bygone days.
Regarding job creation, he said Puerto Rico can no longer go to Washington to ask for another Section 936 because the atmosphere has changed so much.
“Anyone proposing something like that is deceiving the electorate because the atmosphere in Washington is not conducive for searching for 936-types of incentives. This has been more than demonstrated in the most recent discussions in Congress,” Rosa said.
He reaffirmed that his main objective as resident commissioner would be aimed at achieving changes in legislation so investment in Puerto Rico goes
up, but not just in terms of “industrial installations.”
Meanwhile, Rosa downplayed the statements of the U.S. Attorney General before the U.S. Supreme Court on the territorial nature of Puerto Rico’s commonwealth status and its relationship with the U.S. “If there is really a majority in Congress that thinks that, then it has to be translated into federal legislation, but that hasn’t happened,” he said.
“Congress is not what it used to be for Puerto Rico, there is a hostile environment toward the island and I will work to change that.”
•Commitment to transform the office of the Resident Commissioner, particularly in spheres of influence
•No support outside his party
•Perceived as arrogant;
•Identified with the PDP old guard
PDP: Héctor Ferrer: We Need a Resident Commissioner who Understands D.C.’s Political Dynamics
Héctor Ferrer said he wants to be resident commissioner because the next four years will be critical for Puerto Rico on the federal government level because, among other things, new relations will be established between San Juan and Washington, D.C.
For that reason, he said, a person is needed in the office of Resident Commissioner who understands the environment and the political dynamics in Washington. Ferrer, an attorney by profession, has been president of the Popular Democratic Party (PDP) and its spokesperson for the PDP delegation in the Puerto Rico House of Representatives.
“In the next four-year term, the resident commissioner will have greater relevance
than in many decades. The decisions that will be made will have an effect on this new relationship between Puerto Rico and the U.S. Puerto Ricans are going to need a person who knows that system well, in Puerto Rico and in Washington, who has leadership and the capacity to achieve agreements that benefit Puerto Rico,” said Ferrer in a interview with Caribbean Business.
Are there fundamental differences between his platform and that of his PDP rival Sen. Ángel Rosa?
“Everything, because he has not presented any proposal. The only thing he has talked about is that he is the future, but a future without proposals. I have
been emphatic with specific proposals for economic development, resources such as amendments to Sections 242 and 245 of the U.S. Internal Revenue Code. I also have talked about searching for ways that the federal funds received in Puerto Rico can be more flexible,” Ferrer said. “And I have a third proposal to create a real Office of the Resident Commissioner in Puerto Rico, with technical help for municipalities and the [central] government to access discretional federal funds, in which Puerto Rico currently has no participation.
“I also want to empower the resident commissioner with political power, taking the resident commissioner to the Puerto Rican diaspora in the mainland U.S., to also become their representative,” he added.
In addition, Ferrer said he would fight for the elimination of the Cabotage Law [a.k.a. the Jones Act], and, “while we achieve that, search for other routes where the Jones Act doesn’t apply; searching for new routes to bring products that are consumed in Puerto Rico.”
Caribbean Business also asked Ferrer about his vision of the actual Commonwealth and the federal government’s position on this issue, in light of the Puerto Rico v. Sánchez Valle case regarding double jeopardy—now before the U.S. Supreme Court—and what is being considered in Congress related to establishing a federal fiscal-control board for the island.
“I believe Puerto Rico is a territory, and that the decision regarding Sánchez is wrong and will be revoked by the U.S. Supreme Court, because in terms of the judicial branch and the U.S. Supreme Court’s own decisions, it has been established that there is a duality of jurisdiction,” Ferrer said. “We are a territory, and we have to find a way out of this situation. The development of the commonwealth has to take place outside the territorial clause.”
“I will transform the office of the Resident Commissioner so that it is closer to the people.”
• Political support;
•Lobbying experience in Washington
•Serious health condition
NPP: Statehood Top Priority for Jenniffer González in Washington
Rep. Jenniffer González, who is running for the candidacy of resident commissioner for the New Progressive Party (NPP), plans to go to Washington, D.C., in January—assuming she wins the NPP primary in June and the general elections in November—with an aggressive plan to fight for statehood for Puerto Rico and search for financial resources to help resolve the island’s fiscal and economic crisis.
Among other activities, González has announced she plans to organize a mass demonstration in front of the White House and before Congress on March 2, 2017, during the celebration of the 100th anniversary of U.S. citizenship in Puerto Rico. The demonstration, she explained, would be a call for the federal government to act on a request for statehood that would be presented to Congress.
“As soon as I go to Congress in January, I will present a bill of admission so Congress can start to work on statehood,” González said.
Assuming the NPP would win the November general elections, González, whose running mate for La Fortaleza is Ricardo Rosselló, said that the pro-statehood plan would boost the soon-to-be-newly elected Puerto Rico government in all U.S. forums beginning in January. If elected, González and Rosselló plan to set in motion the so-called Tennessee Plan whereby two senators and five representatives from Puerto Rico would be elected to lobby for statehood in Congress.
According to a study by the University of Puerto Rico, the Tennessee Plan for statehood consists of the following steps: 1) Successfully petitioning Congress for admission; 2) Drafting a state constitution without prior congressional intervention; 3) Holding state elections for state officers, U.S. senators and representatives; 4) In some cases, sending the entire congressional delegation to Washington to demand statehood and claim their seats; and 5) Congress, presented with a fait accompli, has little choice but to admit a new state through the passage of a simple act of admission.
On the issue of economic development, González said her platform is divided into four areas: expanding the U.S. HUBZone program to help small and midsize businesses establish companies in economically disadvantaged areas and then qualify for federal contracts; promoting foreign investment on the island; creating a center for federal opportunities; and boosting programs for construction projects.
Noting the eastern region of Puerto Rico has been negatively affected by the closing of Roosevelt Roads Naval Station in Ceiba, González stressed that her efforts would lead to promoting more business opportunities and projects in the surrounding municipalities, including Vieques.
She also promised to improve the island’s overall economy by bringing industries that require the construction and rehabilitation of buildings and other infrastructure. As part of this effort, González said she would take advantage of the presence of all the embassies in Washington by talking with the ambassadors and commercial and economic representatives of various countries, as well as company CEOs and lobbyists of numerous corporations, to invite them to invest in Puerto Rico.
González explained that through this strategy, she will try to find opportunities, not only for the local industries on the island, but also for their workers.
“The first thing I will do is file an incorporation act so Congress immediately begins to work for Puerto Rico statehood.”
•Does not have support outside her party;
NPP: Carlos Pesquera: Experience Vital for Success as Resident Commissioner
Proven experience, strong relationships in Washington, D.C., and successfully carrying out projects are among the fundamental strengths that must accompany a candidate for resident commissioner, according to engineer Carlos Pesquera.
He explained that one of the main functions of a resident commissioner is to identify federal funds at both the congressional and executive levels that could be assigned to Puerto Rico for its economic development.
Pesquera said the financial and economic crisis that has been affecting Puerto Rico for almost a decade, has seriously affected the maintenance of the island’s infrastructure, which is vital for economic development. The former Transportation & Public Works (DTOP) secretary explained that if maintenance is not provided to the island’s roads, water and electricity systems, as well as buildings, it is difficult for residents to live and work, and to attract more tourism to Puerto Rico.
At the same time, Pesquera said if maintenance is not given to important infrastructure systems such as potable water, electricity, transportation and communications, it will be very difficult to get new businesses established on the island.
“And for all of that, it is necessary to identify funds in Congress and the executive agencies,” said Pesquera, whose running mate for La Fortaleza is Resident Commissioner Pedro Pierluisi.
Pesquera, the former NPP gubernatorial candidate in the 2000 general elections, said his platform also includes revitalizing the island’s construction industry, technology sectors and other areas where engineers are key participants and have strong involvement.
As DTOP secretary during the Pedro Rosselló administration, Pesquera is widely credited with several successful infrastructure projects, such as the $2 billion Tren Urbano (Urban Train), the Superaqueduct water pipeline, numerous construction projects including roads and José Miguel Agrelot Coliseum in San Juan’s Golden Mile District of Hato Rey.
Pesquera said his experience as DTOP secretary included working with federal agencies and Congress to identify the funds for those infrastructure projects, which gives him a great advantage over Jenniffer González, his NPP opponent in the June primaries.
“During those years [as DTOP secretary], from 1993 to 2000, I was able to work directly with congressional committees such as those working with transportation and infrastructure, which allowed me to understand the complexity of these processes and how to achieve positive results for Puerto Rico,” Pesquera said.
“The key to success as resident commissioner is to treat officials as equals, without a begging attitude and with dignity. If you do that, there is respect and good results,” he added.
In addition to the work aimed at identifying federal funds for the development and maintenance of infrastructure projects, Pesquera also has on his agenda promoting statehood for Puerto Rico, calling for equal treatment for the island in fiscal and economic issues, without depending on the goodwill of a U.S. legislator or federal agency head.
“As an engineer, my focus as a public official and as a private individual has been to generate results that benefit everyone,” he said.
In light of the difficult times Puerto Rico is going through, “what’s needed is to come up with concrete solutions and, above all, to have proven officials who know what needs to be done,” he added.
“I will go to Congress with the experience handling important committees of great influence such as those of
•Experience in Congress;
•Expertise in infrastructure development
•Lack of electoral traction